In Recognition for Contributions to Irish Culture in Korea…


On Thursday night I was invited over to the Embassy of Ireland in Seoul for a special event. It had been a while since I’d been there, having been in on occasion helping promote Irish Association of Korea events, and for other reasons. I brought the family with me this time, and remembered to take a shave and a shower beforehand. The visit was worth the effort.

Myself and five other individuals were to be awarded for our contributions to the promotion of Irish culture in Korea. While I was undoubtedly the shortest tenured recipient of the award, the company I kept held no qualms about my presence at the ceremony.

With ambassador O’Donoghue and IAK chair, Shauna Browne

Among those were Tom Coyner, who chaired the organisation for seven years and has his share of stories from over the years, Byung Guen Chun, a Korean gentleman who was encouraged into participating over ten years ago and is still an enthusiastic member, Sean Conneely, a Irish Columban missionary who has made Korea his home for over forty if not fifty years, and the daughter of Mr Lee (that’s what we’ve always called him, and I can’t find his business card to use his proper name, so sorry…) who is the owner of the Dublin bars in Gangnam and was unable to attend. Bernard Hughes, another long term Irish expat and contributor to the IAK, was unable to attend also.

It was a very simple ceremony. The Irish ambassador to Korea Aingeal O’Donoghue and IAK Chair Shauna Browne handed out the awards, after each of which a few words of praise were lauded and then the obligatory photographs, all washed down with a bottle or two of champagne. It was a nice but short opportunity to catch up with some old friends, some of whom I am likely not to see again for some time.

Award recipients and ambassador O’Donoghue and IAK chair Shauna Browne

I can’t really emphasise how much this award means to me. While there’s the obvious recognition that is attached to the commendation, that it comes from my peers in both the IAK and the embassy is an indication that the work individual contributions we, and by we I mean all those who have gone before me, have done over the year building up the Irish Association of Korea to the organisation it is today has not gone ignored.

The past year has seen a few notable departures in the committee but I think that this change allows for new faces to step up and embrace the challenges I feel are worth the effort. I couldn’t have imagined myself organising as many St. Patrick’s Day festivals as I did when I first came to Korea, and in the end look where I ended up just before I leave the country over nine years later.

My new paperweight 😉

This is a perfect indicator of how important it is to take every opportunity that you stumble upon, embellish it, nurture it if it’s worth it, and then let it grow with you. And while I know I travelled half way around the world to do this, it’s not necessary for everyone. You just need to be able to make the opportunity yourself, but I’m not going to tell you what those opportunities are. That’s the part that’s up to you.

Now I just need to find something to fill my time over the next five years. Maybe they could use me in Dublin…

 

For more information on the Irish Association of Korea and how you can get involved (I recommend it!) visit www.iak.co.kr

You can see more photographs from this small event here 🙂

Letter from Korea, February 2011


Suwon, South Korea
20/2/2011

 

Dear Ireland

Recently I’ve been in touch with the Irish Ambassador to Korea, Dr. Eamonn McKee. There is a feeling among some of the Irish people I know here that he is keen to promote Ireland’s brand image in an effort to attract attention to Ireland. Despite Ireland’s fame around the world, and especially in English-speaking countries, Ireland is practically unheard of in Korea. If you mention Ireland to your average Korean in the street there is a chance that they will either confuse it with Iceland or smile and nod, the international gesture of change the question before you embarrass me more.

 

Dr. McKee’s efforts are necessary. Bad news travels fast and with the recent IMF and ECB involvement in Ireland’s economy impressions of Ireland can’t be good. While many in Ireland may say that this is rightly so, there can be few who disagree that a good public image is needed if Ireland is to attract investment – which leads to jobs – from abroad.

 

It’s reassuring from a personal perspective to have someone who I can approach who doesn’t shy from interacting with the minions like myself. He even bought me dinner and listened to my opinion – this doesn’t happen to often in Korea.

 

The lack of public knowledge about Ireland doesn’t help, especially if people are thinking of a country to visit so they can study English. It also doesn’t help stigmas against Irish people, one of which is Ireland’s connection with terrorism, a story that my few words of Korean do a poor job of telling. The long and complicated history doesn’t help matters either even if I’m lucky enough to be asked to explain it in English. If I wanted to explain the difficulty to a Korean person I could ask them to give me a history of North and South Korean relations in 150 words or less – a cruel but effective method which I have yet to try.

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